Friday 8th June saw me loading up the car for a festival! Not normally my cup of tea (well coffee as I'm not a tea drinker), but this was a running festival or the 'Glastonbury for Runners' as it's billed by the Organisers. Still not sure if this is my cup of tea or not I arrive just before sunset at Wasing Park near Reading, greeted by two of my fellow team mates, the Brothers Nicholson, John and James.
After being guided in by John, I pitch my tent in our little spot, a spot the boys had to battle hard for! We sit there for a few hours around the fire pit John had made for the occasion, catching up, it had been a year since I'd last seen James and John even longer, so this little jaunt had been a long time coming.
A relatively crap nights sleep, which I can only put down to fornicating wildlife and of course sleeping in the same postcode as James, meant an early start with the obligatory kit faff. Mick arrived mid morning which meant we were up to our full strength 'foursome', and by 1130 we were kicking our heels to get going. The run order had been decided before the start and we would be led out by our Captain John, followed by Mick, then James and me as anchor.
At 1145 we were all at the start to see our Captain off, which gave me an insight in to how big an event this really was. Driving in the evening before the tents appeared to stretch for miles so you got a sense of the scale of the event, but seeing all the people milling around the start/finish area really bought it home. There would be something like 3500 runners out there, but with friends and family all pitching up and making a weekend of it, this really is a massive operation.
Bang on 12, the race started. The buzz of the place was fantastic, especially when Cookie Monster went roaring through the start at a rate of knots after the gun had gone off! We could only assume that somewhere on the course there was a massive jar of cookies, or that the Cookie would crumble as quickly as he set off. We waved John through and made our way back to the pitch and got final bits done. I was chomping at the bit to get out there.
The format is simple, run as many 5 Mile laps as you can in 24hrs. People were coming back saying it was quite hilly out there, which of course the men of steel in my team dismissed as piffle, however, me being the only southern softy in the group, might feel differently when I got out there! I must admit I did feel slightly differently.
Whilst it wasn't 'hilly' the lumps weren't speed bumps either, but to be honest, during the course of the laps you got to the point where you were enjoying them, especially 'Heartbreak Hill', which came at around 4 miles. 'Heartbreak Hill' signified really that your lap was pretty much done, it wasn't really a hill, more of a slog which became a personal quest to keep going on as you began to eat into your laps during the course of the 24hrs.
I confessed to the guys early on (and I know Mick had similar misgivings) that I fancied doing the event as a 'solo' at some stage, however as the laps were checked off, and the hours ebbed away, the thoughts went back to 'why?' In my head now I can rationalise the idea of running for 24hrs point to point, but running laps for 24hrs almost seems pointless to me! I know what's gonna happen though, irrespective of my thought process, I'm not going to feel complete until I've ticked it off! Many would argue want's the point full stop though! I guess that's what makes this 'hobby' so ridiculously absorbing and appealing, there really is something out there for everyone if you like lacing up a pair of running shoes! This event feels like you're just having a great weekend with your mates, you kind of forget that your running 'x' number of laps in between!
However, come the early hours, the demands began to take their toll, firstly Jame's knee decided enough was enough after his fifth lap and come lap 6, John was honking his guts up every time he tried to put something in them. An incredible and phenomenal effort from both of them considering that was the first running either of them had done in some considerable time!
I'll be honest, I think the format of running like that is probably tougher on the mind and the body, if you're setting out to run long, you tune in to your 'happy place', get in the zone and grind it out. Doing 5 miles, fuelling up, resting and then getting ready to go again messes a little with your head if you let it. The aches and tiredness kick in and you definitely get lethargic! I found also that in the early couple of laps that I 'fuelled' a bit to efficiently, meaning I probably ate too much and laps 3 and 4 became pretty uncomfortable with stomach cramps. A readjustment to eating sorted things out though and between Mick and I we ground out the last 6 hours to keep the lap count up.
I finished my last lap almost on the strike of 12, although I had thought about pushing it to see if I could get back before 12 to send Mick out again, just for the giggles! I'm not sure if my legs had that extra 'push' in them so decided to settle into an easy last lap. We'd all put in a decent shift and celebrating our efforts was a much better idea, than watching Mick disappear in to the woodland again!
What do I conclude from Endure24? Laps are much better with friends! We had a fantastic weekend together, there is nothing better than being in the company of those that you hold in the highest regard and grinding shit out! The bonds get stronger, the laughs louder, and you make pacts to do even more crazy shit!
In the end we came 31st out of the 50 Small Teams, clocking up 27 laps (135 miles) between us. Something to aim at! See you next year Endure 24!
MST on the SUMMER FAN
A month later I'm back in Brecon for the first time since the Winter Fan (after completing The Woodhouse Edition) after vowing I wouldn't be taking on the Fan again, in that format anyway.
After taking on every Fan since Summer 2013, bar Summer 2017 which came two weeks after we’d finished The 100 Peaks, I’d become resolute in my thinking that the track for me was now for treading when I wanted to be up there to reflect on why I started taking part in the first place, Lloydy. I wanted that route to retain the special significance it has and not become something I continually do twice a year, to better the previous markers I put down.
I must admit when it came round to the build up buzz of the event post-Woodhouse it felt a little strange that I wouldn’t be lining up again at the Old Red Phone Box. However, when signing off my desire to be in the huddle I did offer myself to Ken to assist if he ever felt he could use me for the event. The AEE family has done so much for me over the time I’ve been involved, it has given me so much, I just wanted to be able to give something back, should the opportunity be there to do so.
Just after the Boston Marathon, that email from KJ, duly arrived, inviting me to be part of the MST for this Summers event. Whilst I was extremely nervous about being on the 'other side of the fence' I accepted without hesitation. For me, all of a sudden I was extremely aware of my skillset, my limitations and indeed if I truly had the skills for what was required of me. For a non-tea drinker I am an extremely proficient brew maker, and to be honest if that had been the limit of my duties on the weekend I would have accepted that gladly! But we all know, nothing grows in your 'comfort zone'!
I arrived at basecamp on the Friday just after 1400, the Pont D'Arf was a buzz of activity with most of the DS and MST already there. I got warmly welcomed in to the fold but I still felt like an imposter, and still couldn't quite get my head around the notion I wasn't weighing my bergen in!
It was a strange feeling being there and not flapping about getting my shit together and going through my routine in detail, to be honest I was beginning to wonder if I would miss bouncing around the hills come Saturday morning. Instead I had to focus on new details, a new routine and one that meant I would need to be switched on in a slightly different way. Gradually more and more friends rocked up and began the process of checking in, initially I helped Anna and Jon out with registrations, did a bit of kit checking for the Clean Fatiguers and generally tried to make myself as useful as possible. Once the 2100 check in cut off arrived it was down to business and we were given our taskings for the morning.
Just after 0100 I crawled into my sleeping bag in my car, after prepping my kit for the morning, the alarm was going off at 0400 with the aim of being ready to get on the track up the mountain by 0500. Fed and watered and loaded up with about 8 litres of water (3 for me and 5 for emergencies) I made my way up the 'Granny' with Dr Matt, DS Nick and Richie. They left me at my station, at the top of the sheep track under Corn Du, MST 2, the 'Hollywood' spot!
I watched them wander off up the track and disappear as they hit the brow and I settled in for the day, it was a warm one already, it was just coming up to 0530 and the Woodhouse 'go' would be echoing around those hills in 30 mins. I grabbed a little more breakfast and just enjoyed the quiet and the views, not something you get to do often in those hills.
As the guys started coming through my station, I offered what support I could, it was gonna be a long tough day out there for all of them, some would not make the full route with the cut offs imposed at RV3, and no doubt I'd be offering what consolation I could to some in about 4 hrs time as they came back through my station to the car park.
At about 0730 the front runners from the 'traditional' Fan route began to pass through my spot all looking strong and in fine fettle, again it was going to be a tough day out there for many. The heat was going to have a massive bearing on the event, and those that kept on top of their admin, would be the ones that would be running back down the sheep track in a few hours.
With the starts all through my station I anticipated a fair amount of time in solitude, where I would go from sitting to standing, occasionally eating and drinking, possibly singing a tune or two to myself, but it didn't take long for me to understand why my spot was called the 'Hollywood' spot. I spent most of my time chatting to people who were up and down the mountain, mainly about what we were doing out there, offering advice on route and or giving encouragement when needed or generally being wowed by people obviously well outside their comfort zone putting in serious effort, not to mention my favourite, watching little ones devour that track with boundless enthusiasm.
As predicated and somewhat sadly guys started passing me back down the granny route, pulled off at RV3 on Woodhouse. It was no surprise given the conditions out there and knowing the climb out of RV2 back on to Fan Summit at RV3, it was going to take a monumental effort to get up there and through the check point in good time. The heat would be taking it's toll and so it proved.
The day passed pretty much without incident other than helping out with cramp, giving out salted and chocolate nuts and refilling water bottles for those that had either run out or were pretty much running on empty. Mid-way through the afternoon it was great to see coming over the brow of the hill, my fellow MST and the DS from the check points and stations on the mountain, so as the approached me, I closed up my station and made my way back down the granny with them.
We arrived back in camp and proceeded to get ready for High Moon, people were already milling about ready for registration. KJ gave us our taskings for the evening, I was to be stationed at the Old Pump House with Dr. Matt & Jon and after a little bit of wrangling managed to bag some hill time by offering to sweep the course once the last of the 'High Mooners' had gone through our check point. We made our way around to the pump house after watching the High Mooners go off and settled in with a brew and the midgies!
Shortly before dark Scooby Doo Mystery incorporated began to turn up, on the face of it they were looking to get to the old pump house site but as we were hauled up there, they decided to take themselves off further up the track above the pump house. I guess they didn't fancy us old codgers joining in their rave, the little shits did nick our light sticks though to give indication to their fellow Scooby snack munchers where their little party was going off.
Obviously, we didn't know that until we started noticing our competitors tabbing up the track above us! That was the only real major incident (other than DS Bigg dancing half naked at the top of 642) and as the last of the guys made their way through our check point, I pulled up the rear bouncing up to 642 to join him picking up the light sticks as I went to some banging techno!
Having arrived back in camp just after 2am I was back in my sleeping bag at 3, trying to grab a few hours kip. The alarm was set for 6 ready for kick off at 8. I was feeling knackered but a good solid few hours kip sorted me right out and when I was given my tasking for the day was ready to go. Sunday's station was an easy effort really, stationed in the awesome company off DS Nick and Stu and Bryn at RV2 (turnaround point). The day was spent checking off numbers, filling up water bottles and getting guys to get a wriggle on, so they didn't miss cut off. The day was rounded off with getting one guy back to the turnaround after finding him sat in the gulley (sat in the stream, drenching himself) just before the Roman Road as I was sweeping the course of route flags.
I did wonder when I arrived on the Friday if I'd miss not bouncing around the hills tabbing my little legs off and whether I'd made the right decision!
However, I can honestly say, being out there as part of MST was a huge honour and to see so many friends dear and new give it the beans and be there to offer what encouragement and support I could was all the patch I needed!
Whilst since, I've suggested that maybe I'm not completely done with the Fan, being part of the MST was a special experience and should I be afforded the opportunity again, I will be happily on the mountain doing what I can to help and offer the smiles and encouragement that I know make a world of difference, when it's needed most.
On a personal note it was awesome to see so many friends achieve what they did and be able to share in that and also a massive thank you to all the DS & MST and especially KJ for giving me the opportunity to be part of the team. It was an experience I will never forget and feel extremely honoured and humbled to have been trusted with such a role.
See you on the hill soon guys!